Thursday night at New York Comic Con 2016 brought the world premiere of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and a lively panel discussion after the screening with a sterling range of talent: director Rick Morales; writers/producers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic; and of course star actor Adam West (Batman). The panel was introduced by Warner Bros Animation President Sam Register, who remarked on how it was “kind of amazing this was happening” and talked about the time he recruited Adam West to reprise the same role he occupied in the 1960s-era “Batman” television show the movie takes so much inspiration from. Register invited Mr. West to his office in Burbank and “asked his permission” to carry out the project and for him to play Batman again, and in the course of accepting West referred to Register as “old chum.”
After this brief introduction the audience was treated to a screening of the film, after which the panel audience came out to discuss the project with Mr. Register acting as moderator. To start, Adam West was asked why the campy style of the 1960s era Batman still works for people today, to which West replied that the key is that his kind of Batman is something for the whole family. For him it works “when you do the thing with a little humor and it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it’s not all terribly serious. I’m the happy Batman, I’m the funny Batman!” Mr. Register asked West how it was to revisit his role as Batman, which West described as a “great pleasure” and “a beautiful thing.” since he got the opportunity to bring back a role that so many people had enjoyed for many years.
Mr. Register then asked James Tucker and Michael Jelenic about how he started the process of creating the film, prompting Mr. Tucker to remark on the prior work the staff had done for Batman: The Brave and the Bold and how it was “kind of a warm up” for this project. Mr. Jelenic remarked that at the time, Brave and the Bold was the closest Mr. Tucker ever thought he’d get to doing Adam West’s kind of Batman, which was the “biggest influence” on his childhood. For the film, they looked to the example of silver age comic books in the 50’s and 60’s when considering what kind of things to put in, and Tucker said he “…tried to put it into what I think they would’ve done for the show if there had been more money and time.” On the subject of the movie’s humor Michael Jelenic followed up on that by commenting that while Brave and the Bold was a funny program, Batman himself was “played pretty straight,” while the “genius” of the 1966 version is that “he says the funniest things but takes it so seriously, and it takes a real talent to pull off that kind of comedy.”
When asked about translating the motif of the 1966 Batman for animation, Rick Morales said that it was a challenge at first because many of their storyboard artists “weren’t familiar with this subject matter,” so the situation required some “finessing” to work it all out. Mr. Register then asked the panel about their favorite moments, prompting Mr. Jelenic to cite the writing of the detective work due to the “leaps of logic” in the old show that were “delivered in such a way that you never thought there was a joke in it” as a kid. For him it was uncertain if viewers would be “in on the joke” this time, but in his view “people got it” during the screening. For Mr. Tucker, the “most twisted” thing about the movie was “how much of a horndog Aunt Harriet was.” As for Mr. Morales, he approves most of a certain plot twist involving Batman’s attitude in the course of the film that this report will not spoil here. Related to that topic, Adam West was appreciative to the staff of the opportunity to “bring something maybe a little different” to his performance this time. Mr. Register then asked the panel about things they were not able to do for the project that they wished they could have, prompting Mr. Morales to acknowledge the “Miranda” song as something they wanted to do but couldn’t get the rights for.
With that, the panel shifted to taking questions from the audience. The first question asked about the distinctions between the 1966 Batman show and the new movie, to which Mr. Jelenic replied that their goal was not to exactly recreate the TV show but to be “inspired” by it in addition to the aforementioned Silver Age of comic books. On the question of sequels and future work as Batman, Adam West declared that “I’d be willing to do, I think, anything with Batman as long as the material is as good as what these people produced.” At that Mr. Jelenic quipped that West should commit right now, prompting Mr. Register to joke that Mr. West’s price was going up on the spot. Another question asked Mr. West how he’s managed to retain the same voice for Batman all this time, causing him to jokingly give the credit to “gargling with vodka.” He supposes that he is simply “the luckiest actor alive.” Another fan asked about the possibility of Mr. West doing a cameo on a live-action TV show, causing Mr. West to remark that he’d enjoy doing the Grey Ghost. But for now “…this is Batman, baby.”
After that, a fan challenged the writers on the panel by asking “How do you feel knowing that you gave a female character more agency in this film than in The Killing Joke?” referencing Julie Newmar as Catwoman in Return of the Caped Crusaders. This prompted scattered applause and no small number of “oooooooh!”-type outbursts from the crowd, although the panel opted to largely deflect the question rather than tackle controversy. Mr. Tucker that “There’s a word for you sir, and I’m not going to say it in mixed company,” while Mr. Jelenic quipped they won’t answer since they don’t know what “agency” means. Mr. Jelenic went on to shift the subject by praising the work of Julie Newmar, who “carries herself like a movie star” and “is still like seven feet tall.” Another fan asked about favorite heroes or villains besides Batman. Rick Morales named Superman to the chagrin of a few vocal fans, while Mr. Jelenic named Spider-Man and Adam West provoked laughs by naming Catwoman because “she gave me curious stirrings in my utility belt.”
Another question acknowledged the Batman 66 comic book by Jeff Parker, and asked if Mr. West was aware of it. He replied he’s seen an issue once and went on to remark that he does read comics occasionally now, and finds it “interesting how they evolved over the years.” He further recalled that once when he was 12, someone stole his comic book, and that he’ll never forgive that person. On a final point, Mr. West was also asked what he thought made him stand out as an actor. While Mr. West at first replied that he had “no idea” as he wasn’t a critic, he went on to express that at times when projects “…utilize my sense of humor, that makes it more interesting and fun for me to do.”
At the end of Q&A, Sam Register returned to the stage to announce that Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders in fact already has a sequel planned, as reported earlier here at Toonzone. In a first for “Batman 66” fiction, Batman will battle the villain Two-Face for the first time, with the master criminal being performed by William Shatner. For television buffs and adults with long memories, this actually represents a belated and welcome reunion for the two men, who were once together in starring roles on the ill-fated Alexander the Great television project before their work on Star Trek and Batman propelled them to stardom. That film, with the working title of Batman vs. Two-Face, will be out in 2017. In the meantime, fans can look forward to the future release of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders on digital platforms October 11th and on home video on November 1st.